Tech Toys, Santa, and Potatoes: Chatting with Engadget’s Ross Miller

Ross Miller, Engadget

In our continued efforts to turn the tables around on journalists all over the tech industry and put them in the interview hot seat, today’s spotlight is with Ross Miller of Engadget. Currently, Ross is an Associate Editor for the leading tech blog and is Engadget’s only contact in California. He has been reporting on all sorts of gadgets and gizmos for the better part of a decade and has an extensive tech-related educational background. We had the opportunity to chat with Ross about his work at Engadget, some things to look forward to in 2010, and poker winning strategies.

TP: First off, thank you for making time for this interview. With the holidays and CES just around the corner, things sure are chaotic.

RM: Very much so. My inbox has begun to rebel against me. It’s creating passive aggressive labels just to get my attention.

TP: Tell us a little bit about your position at Engadget. How did you come to be there?

RM: A lot of it came about as a stroke of luck. The abridged version is that around 2005 while in college (University of Georgia) I was looking for a summer job. The university radio station and newspaper weren’t as keen at hiring, so I took a cold call for then-small time gaming blog Joystiq, with nary a resume bullet point. By some stroke of luck I got the gig, we got bought by AOL a year later, and then towards my graduation back in December ’08 I started helping Engadget out in preparation of CES 2009. Just after that I got hired as Associate Editor and moved out to San Francisco in April 2009.

TP: What are your favorite kinds of gadgets to review and which types do you tend to stay away from?

RM: As much as I love LED-flashing TARDIS model on my desk, I think I could go my whole life without another novelty USB device. What really excites me more than anything else is the mobile industry. Even in just the span of a couple years, the technology has grown leaps and bounds, and I’m really looking forward to what next year brings with especially the Android platform.

TP: Are there any gizmos you’re really looking forward to checking out in 2010?

RM: I’m interested to see how Microsoft and Sony’s gesture controls, a.k.a. Project Natal and yet-to-be-officially named “PS3 motion controller,” pan out. In no way do I think either solution will replace the standard controller — there’s too much tradition and precedent there — but as a complementary input method, I remain cautiously optimistic developers will find some interesting and creative uses. Surely there’s been enough trial and error with Wii titles, right?

TP: When did you first realize you were a true techie?

RM: That’s a tough question, I think everyone around me realized it before I did. If an abundance of math and science classes don’t count, probably my moment of no return was when I realize I could program my TI-83 calculator to make games, and more importantly, function as a cheat sheet for exams. That was probably my first all-in-one pocket computer, in retrospect.

TP: Engadget has been named the blog of the decade by Adweek, how do you feel about that? Do you ever use it as a pickup line?

RM: Oh, all the time! Unfortunately, it usually ends with my fiancé making some disparaging innuendo involving low-power Atom processors (if you don’t get that joke, it’s for the best, really). To be honest, I’m just about to hit my first year with Engadget, so I really don’t take any credit for its incredible popularity. I am a lucky cog in phantasmagorical machine running on unicorn tears, and that reader’s choice award is yet another reminder of how fortunate we are to have such a supportive and passionate readership.

TP: For the PR pros out there, what is the best way to get your attention? What do you look for in a pitch?

RM: Just get to the point, really. I’ll sort through literally hundreds of emails in a day, and if I don’t see a key noun (company, product, technology, etc.) within the first three words, there’s a risk it’ll get lost in the shuffle. Spare the superlatives and give us the facts. If we’re making a dream list here, also take a few minutes to think if this is really something that falls under Engadget’s domain. I understand that there’s a pressure to get your clients’ news out there, and I’m not going to call out any specific company or firm, but constantly blasting us every little newsbrief isn’t going to get our attention. Some of the best PR relationships I’ve established started with a little bit of discussion on what we will and won’t be able to cover, and those are the people whose names always stand out, despite sending less messages.

TP: What’s this thing you have with potatoes? Is it possible to use potatoes to help win a poker game? Could be useful for CES.

RM: Haha. So when we were writing Engadget profiles for the redesign, I actually made a list of different closers I could use, just to lighten up the paragraph a bit. I don’t recall the others, but that struck me as one of the more absurd and relatable options. It’s actually a quote from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, specifically Life, the Universe and Everything: “It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.” As far as poker’s concerned, your best bet is to draw eyes on a spud and pretend to talk to during hands. People will think you’re crazy, and that facade might work to your advantage. And if you are actually crazy, well, it still might help your game.

TP: You’ve been in San Francisco for almost a year now, what is the strangest thing you have witnessed in the City while living here?

RM: I don’t even know where to begin. In my first month I found myself inadvertently walking in the Bay to Breakers parade, which is miles-long walk chockfull of elaborate costumes and a dash of streaking. Still, if I had to pick one instance, it’d have to be the recent SantaCon 2009: Total Santarchy. Thousands-strong red tide pub crawl? The things that I saw, I’m afraid I can’t even tell to my family pictures.

TP: You can only live and play in one SF district for the rest of your time here, which one and why?

RM: Given my work schedule, I’m still trying to find time to check out the city, so my view of each district is very incomplete. If I’ve gotta pick one now, I’d have to say Mission District just for the sheer geographical size and variety of bars, dance clubs, restaurants, and shops. Ask me again next year, I’m sure I’ll have a different answer at that point!